The Archdiocese of Yangon has released an English-language version of Cardinal Bo’s homily that he preached on the great Feast of Pentecost.
Describing Pentecost as offering a “great message to Myanmar’s people,” the Cardinal focused on the three symbols of hope: unity – in particular the use of a common language to bring people together, wind – a manifestation of the Holy Spirit – to allow the oxygen of peace to flow freely, and fire – the fire of justice.
Cardinal Bo also stressed that violence cannot give birth to democracy:
“After the great struggle, now there are differences of opinion among people. Some want peace; some want confrontation through federal army. So there emerges difference of opinion. When we want to build democracy, it is not like the tower of Babel. We all need to speak the same language. Democracy is a great ideal. But it can be misunderstood. Violence cannot give birth to democracy. Only peace can.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Greetings. Wishing all of you a great Feast of Pentecost. Happy Birthday to the Church. Today the Church was born, empowered by the outpouring of the Spirit on the simple apostles in Jerusalem. May the same Spirit fortify you in these days. Let the Spirit of God protect you from all challenges. Spirit is the Holy Spirit. We believe all of us are gifted with the Spirit in our hearts. The Spirit consoles us, the Spirit heals us, the Spirit unites us, the Spirit dispels all darkness. May the great feast of the Holy Spirit dawn on your heart, on your family, on our country and heal us, unite us and dispel all the fear and the darkness. Let this Pentecost be the starting point of hope for each one of us, and to the nation. Let this feast of empowerment and healing bring a Pentecost of peace to our nation. It is a day of celebration of hope for Myanmar people.
Today is the Pentecost, a day when we celebrate the birth of the church by the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is also a day that launched the Church’s participation in Jesus’ mission to the world.
This is a great day of hope. Remember the first Pentecost on the disciples: poor, uneducated, powerless and anxious men were suddenly turned into powerful, fearless and empowered apostles. They went on to establish Christ’s church in many parts of the Roman Empire. The Holy Spirit was real. Its power has survived more than two thousand years. We are in the same situation: poor, anxious, the power of the evil seems to be overwhelming. This is the time we should expect the Spirit to work wonders in us.
This feast has great message to Myanmar people. Today’s readings give us three great symbols of hope to Myanmar people. They are:
Why the miracle of tongues? What are the lessons Myanmar people can derive from that? In answer, recall the story regarding the tower of Babel. Inflated by pride, men attempted to build a tower that would touch the heavens. To punish their pride, God confused their speech. Pride causes confusion and division. Now Christ came to gather all men into His Church and thereby to unite them to Himself. This should result in creating but one family of nations again. To this blessed state the miracle of tongues points.
The speaking in different languages is also significant. Pentecost was the great undoing of the Tower of Babel. Back then, humans wanted to advance themselves and create a world apart from God. If left unchecked, the entire world would be united in evil and determined to reject and ignore the redemptive plans God had for humanity. In his mercy, God confused their languages to disrupt their ill-fated plans. At Pentecost, God used languages to bring people to himself. No longer would languages be used to divide people. Now, God would use language to bring people together. Unity and not giving up to evil. The fire of the Holy Spirit will burn the evil.
Even we as individuals have a gift of tongues which all men can understand. It is the gift of love infused into us by the Holy Spirit. Love unites, love is a common language, by means of love we can speak to all nations.
Let us talk the language of Unity in Myanmar: Not the disunity of Babel but the unity of the Pentecost.
As a nation we are going through tough times. Last Sunday, Pope Francis consoled us, encouraging us to remain united and work for peace. Yes. After the great struggle, now there are differences of opinion among people. Some want peace; some want confrontation through federal army. So there emerges difference of opinion. When we want to build democracy, it is not like the tower of Babel. We all need to speak the same language. Democracy is a great ideal. But it can be misunderstood. Violence cannot give birth to democracy. Only peace can. There seems to be a division of Myanmar people who are fighting the evil.
“Dear brothers and sisters, in these days when your beloved country, Myanmar, is experiencing violence, conflict, and repression, let us ask ourselves: what we are being called to keep? In the first place, to keep the faith. We need to keep the faith lest we yield to grief or plunge into the despair of those who no longer see a way out.”
How to keep the Faith? The Pope points to the beautiful example of Jesus:
“To keep the faith is to keep our gaze lifted up to heaven, as here on earth, battles are fought and innocent blood is shed. To keep the faith is to refuse to yield to the logic of hatred and vengeance, but to keep our gaze fixed on the God of love, who calls us to be brothers and sisters to one another… Amid war, violence and hatred, fidelity to the Gospel and being peacemakers calls for commitment, also through social and political choices, even at the risk of our lives. Only in this way can things change.”
Yes. Let the Pentecostal day bring a new language in our tongues: the language of love. Only love can make a language unite the people like the Pentecostal day, hatred is the language of confusion, the language of the tower of Babel, where confusion prevailed and the project failed miserably.
As a nation we are a colorful mosaic of cultures: 8 tribes and 135 sub tribes. More than 100 spoken languages. With so many languages, we must have a common vision and a common language of hope and love. We can win. Because the language of love has no death. Pope encouraged us: Myanmar people should not lose their faith or hope “even in the dark night of grief, even when evil seems to have the upper hand”. That is also the message of the Pentecost.
After the great message of speaking in tongues, let us look into two other symbols of this feast: Wind and Fire.
Let there be the oxygen of Peace flow freely as a wind in this current.
Wind in Latin is Spiritus – that is Life. The wind is significant. The wind is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who hovered over the disciples on this day, hovered over the void at the dawn of creation. In both cases, it was almost like the Holy Spirit was anxiously and joyously anticipating the new thing God was getting ready to do. The wind signaled that the Spirit was there, and he was about to bring about a new creation—a new type of human made in the new humanity forged by Jesus Christ.
Wind is also the sign of air, air is the sign of oxygen that gives life. It was God the Father who blew his life giving breadth into the first man, Adam. The Covid struggle in India shows how oxygen is very important to survive. Thankfully we do not have that crisis yet. But we have the crisis of the lack of oxygen of peace. Our people are gasping for life, since there is no peace. “Peace I give you,” Jesus said. That peace oxygen is missing in our land. Let the Holy Spirit blow with great vigor bringing the oxygen of hope, healing and peace to this conflict- Covid affected nation.
Let that fire of Justice burn all the hard-hearted selfish men who inflict pain on others.
Finally, the fire is vital. The tongues of fire fell on the disciples and they were totally changed. Pentecost did not just happen — rather it was ignited years prior. Before he began his ministry, John the Baptist foretold of a coming Fire Starter, and he told us the kind of ministry he would have. Luke writes:
“John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.'” (Luke 3:16)
Jesus started the fire. During his ministry, this Fire Starter spoke of his work and how anxious he was for his fire to be lit. In Luke, he states:
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49).
What fire did Jesus bring? In the Bible, the qualities of fire are purification, presence, and power. Understanding these three aspects of fire from the Biblical perspective will help us understand what the Holy Spirit unleashed on the day of Pentecost.
The fire of Jesus is a purifying fire because it cleanses us of sin. The cross dealt with humanity’s sin once for all time. However, because sin still causes pain, God works in each of us to help us turn away from the things that hurt us or cause us to turn away from him. As a nation Myanmar needs to purify itself. Each one and the community. Let that fire purify men who live with hatred.
The fire of Jesus symbolises the enduring presence of God. When God called Moses to shepherd his people out of Egyptian slavery, he appeared to him as a burning bush. Later, when the Israelites were leaving Egypt and did not know where to go, God appeared in a cloud by day and fire in the sky at night. When they arrived at the place in the desert where God wanted to interact with them, God revealed himself as a mountain on fire. Amidst all the pain and suffering of the last four months, we need to feel the enduring presence of God amidst our tears and brokenness in this land. He is God who never forgets us. Let is fire of freedom lead us in this desert of war and conflict.
Finally, the fire of Christ represents the power of God to save and restore. Those on whom Jesus’ fire fell were not the ones a respectable rabbi would choose. At best, they were unremarkable. But something happened to them after they encountered Christ. They were not the same. Jesus made them new — not just a cleaned-up version of their old selves, but something entirely different. God equipped them with power to be his witnesses throughout the world. They boldly preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and their words were confirmed by awesome miracles. The sign God gave that he was going to use these men to turn the world upside down was the fire of Pentecost. Let the same prayer be on the lips of all Myanmar people. Let us turn this nation upside down with peace.
What started in the upper room on Pentecost continues today. The fire that fell on the disciples is kindled in us as well. May God bless us to burn as brightly. May he cause us to spread that fire in our communities. May that fire purify us, remind us of his presence, and fill us with his power all for his glory.
May that same Pentecostal fire of peace fall on every Myanmar brother and sisters. Christ has risen and sent his advocate for us. Alleluia. Let a new Myanmar of Peace and reconciliation rise through the power of the Holy Spirit.